The styling is clean and handsome, and the interior roomy, with leather seating surfaces, wood trim, a panoramic sunroof, fold-flat rear seats, quality sound system and all the power stuff as standard equipment. The body structure is second to none in its rigidity and safety, with liberal use of ultra-high-strength steel in the door beams and other places. The list of electronic safeguards goes on and on. ABS, EBD, EBA, DSC, ARM, CBC, HDC, GRC (they're all explained below; each could save your life, or at the least keep the vehicle under control far better than any human). Also Terrain Response, with four settings for different driving conditions: pavement; gravel, grass and snow; mud and ruts; or sand.
The long-travel suspension uses all the acquired knowledge of Land Rover engineers, and delivers a firm and stable ride in all conditions, while providing superlative cornering for an SUV that's 68.5 inches high. The vented disc brakes are big and bomb-proof. The traction system is made by Haldex, the leader in all-wheel-drive design, and it's state of the art: electronic rather than hydraulic, making it faster and more sensitive than anything that's ever found its way into an SUV.
The Land Rover LR2 has it all, for a five-seat SUV.
Land Rover LR2 ($33,985)
Your neighbors might think it's a Range Rover, although it's 18.6 inches shorter overall and 6.5 inches less high. But its wheelbase is only 6.5 inches less, giving it a total of one less foot of overhangs, which makes it more modern and compact. It also has a cool trapezoidal engine vent on each front fender just under the sideview mirror, a wider body-colored C-panel, black door handles, and outstanding 12-spoke spidery 18-inch wheels in silver alloy. Sleeker horizontal rectangular headlamps. As a package, it's the best looking and best proportioned Land Rover out there, although the LR3 (bigger than an LR2 and smaller than a Range Rover) is also very tidy. We just wish the LR2's silver plastic grille were black, and didn't look like its pattern was designed in about 10 minutes. The LR3 has by far the best grille, with body-colored slats.
Safety is enhanced by the LR2's monocoque structure, which uses crumple zones and ultra high strength steel to create what Land Rover calls a safety cell.
The center stack is wide and full of black rectangular buttons that make you feel like a pilot when you press them; a few of the icons are arcane, but they're not as baffling as German ones. The vents are long and rectangular, on each side of the navigation screen having displays for other information such as climate control and the sound system.
The center stack doesn't flow into the console like some vehicles. Forward of the shift lever and at the bottom of the center stack, there's a big round knob for the Terrain Response System. It controls engine and traction settings for four different driving conditions: general; grass, gravel and snow; mud and ruts; and sand. The lever and knob are nicely rimmed and trimmed by aluminum-look plastic.
The standard seats are good Land Rover leather; they're roomy and supportive, not always an easy combination. Ours were black and looked terrific. They were so good that after one day and 400 hard miles, including hundreds of hard curves and some time off-road, we weren't a bit sore. You can't say much more about a seat than that.
There are sufficient storage spaces all over, with good legroom in front, 41.9 inches, but less good in the rear, 36.4 inches; that's still nearly an inch more than the larger Range Rover, although it's 1.2 inches less than the LR3 (it's longer by 14 inches) and a huge 3.2 inches less than the new Ford Edge crossover. Our back-seat passenger said he didn't feel cramped, maybe thanks to the Stadium Seating, elevated a bit for better visibility out the windshield, while still allowing 39.4 inches of headroom.
The 60/40 rear seat folds flat, yielding 58.9 cubic feet of storage space, and there's 26.7 cubic feet with the rear seat raised; those are pretty good numbers but not as much as a Toyota RAV4, for example. There would be more cargo space if if the loading floor were lower; but if it were, you'd have to bend down to load things through the liftgate. The floor has a unique reversible cover: one side is carpeted, the other a washable surface.
The standard 40-watt sound system with eight speakers has an automatic volume control; the faster you drive, the louder it gets.
The engine is a new inline six cylinder displacing 3.2 liters; it was designed by Volvo and is used in the S80 sedan and XC90 SUV. It's very high tech and extremely small: only 24 inches long, small enough to be mounted transversely, an exceptional thing, yielding benefits in a number of areas, maybe most importantly in the safety structure, specifically the front crumple zone.
Volvo might have outdone itself with this new engine, and that's saying something. The acceleration is smooth and strong, taking the 4255-pound LR2 from 0 to 60 in 8.4 seconds, and it delivers an estimated combined 21 miles per gallon. There's a nice little inner growl, the engine's exhaust note a bit deeper than most BMW inline sixes. The horsepower is 230 at 6300 rpm, with a solid 234 pound-feet of torque peaking at 3200 rpm, a good low range for efficient acceleration. And 80 percent of that torque is available at a rock-bottom 1400 rpm. You'd only need a V8 if you tow a boat or horses or something, and then not even necessarily.
The least expensive LR3 costs nearly $8000 more than the LR2 and uses an older V6 engine with only 213 horsepower, making the LR2 look even better.
The new six-speed automatic transmission brings the most out of the engine. It's got three modes: Drive, Sport and Command. Slide the lever to the left for Sport, and the shifts get quicker and come later; after you make one shift manually you're in Command mode, and it stops shifting by itself (most of the time). But if you forget you're in Command, it won't always help you. We were in sixth gear one time, and slowed down for a 35-mph speed zone in a town; when we got through the town and accelerated, nothing happened because the gear was too high. It wasn't just slow, really: nothing happened. We downshifted two gears and all was well again. Okay, we were punished for forgetting; but we like that better than a transmission whose programming is annoyingly overprotective, because it invariably does things you don't want it to, and doesn't do things you do want it to. On the other hand, you can simply select Drive and the transmission does everything automatically.
The ride is excellent, maybe even exceptional. Our 400 hard miles with no stiffness or soreness attests to that. Way out in the country on a long straight road, we hit a series of deep long dips at 100 mph, and the LR2 stayed true, even when the front wheels got a bit light at the top, once. Land Rover says the LR2's monocoque structure is nearly twice as rigid as the competition (whomever that might be), and is exceeded by only the Porsche Cayenne. This airborne test was our way of finding out. The LR2 passed.
Land Rover tested the LR2 on the 13-mile Nurburgring circuit in Germany, where the best and sportiest go for their development. We drove miles of curvy roads more suited to a sports car, and the LR2 handled the challenge remarkably well for an SUV, thanks again to the chassis rigidity, the rubber-mounted front and rear subframes, and the long travel and large diameter of the gas shock absorbers.
Corner Brake Control (CBC) helped keep the rear end stable when we were braking in a corner.
The anti-lock brakes (with electronic front-to-rear distribution and brake assist) use big vented rotors, 12.5 inches in diameter in front and 12.0 inches in rear, and they took all the pressure we put on them for the slow corners, some of which came after long straights at high speed.
The all-wheel-drive system is exclusive to the LR2, and is as high-tech as anything else available, including from Land Rover. It's designed by Haldex, the leader in the field. Most systems use hydraulic coupling of the driveshaft to the rear differential, but in the LR2 it
The LR2 is a ground-up new model from Land Rover, and it's a technological tour-de-force. It's the smallest and least expensive Land Rover, offering the most bang for the buck. It has a sensational new inline six-cylinder engine built by Volvo, and a smooth six-speed automatic transmission with obedient manual mode. The ride is beyond reproach in all conditions, the cornering is superior for an SUV, the brakes are huge, and the off-road capability is typically Land Rover. The safety structure breaks new ground, with ultra-high-strength steel, crumple zones, seven airbags and electronic safeguards galore.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses filed this report from Santa Barbara, California.